Choose the North: The government must deliver on railway promises

Today the North calls on government to finally put its money where its mouth is. With ministers poised to release their long-delayed plan for railway investment this week, we warn it is time to replace rhetoric with reality where the North of England is concerned. Enough’s enough.

The Prime Minister has been prepared to use chronic central government neglect of Northern England to his political advantage. It is time to keep his side of the bargain. Where rail investment is concerned, that does not mean a smattering of piecemeal upgrades dressed up as a transport revolution, ready for deployment on leaflets at the next election.

It means new inter-city lines to and across the North, a move supported both by Northern leaders and the Conservative manifesto.

His plan must now include those Northern Powerhouse Rail lines. We are calling on ministers to deliver the project, in full. That does not mean merely upgrading the existing Manchester to Leeds Transpennine line[1] while shunting other parts of the project down the tracks in the meantime.

It means doing for us what successive governments have done for the capital. In Boris Johnson’s own words[2], just after becoming Prime Minister in 2019: “I want to be the PM who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did with Crossrail in London.” If that promise is to be met, it means seamlessly connecting the Western leg of HS2 through to West Yorkshire via an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly – and a new station in Bradford city centre.

Choose the North: The government must deliver on railway promises

It means a new train line from Liverpool to Manchester, via Manchester Airport.

It means that in the North East, Newcastle and Durham are connected into the other side of the high speed network. A real strategic plan means the government keeping promises to build HS2 to the North, in full, including the Eastern leg and a fully-funded station at Manchester Airport. It also means the East Coast Mainline finally being upgraded to allow for more services, including extra capacity north of York, as well as the electrification of routes around Hull, Selby and Sheffield.

Otherwise yet another generation will be blighted by the same old creaking, congested, neglected Victorian railways we have long suffered. And our economy will continue to underperform. Ministers cannot claim ignorance.

They have long known that the North of England does not have the connections it needs.

Choose the North: The government must deliver on railway promisesBoris Johnson promising to build a new line between Manchester and Leeds, 2019

As Boris Johnson’s own manifesto promised less than two years ago: “If this Conservative Government is returned to office, we will have an infrastructure revolution for this country. Now is the time to invest in Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

We agree. Indeed the Prime Minister was so enthusiastic about the Manchester to Leeds stretch of NPR that he specifically promised to build it before the last election.

“A new Trans-Pennine rail route between Manchester and Leeds will be confirmed today,” said a Downing Street press notice issued ahead of Boris Johnson’s 2019 speech at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. The press release promised ‘new inter-city rail routes’, ‘with Manchester to Leeds as the first step’.

Choose the North: The government must deliver on railway promises

If that promise is broken, it will be added to a much longer roll-call of fine political words that never translated into investment. We have now been waiting seven years for the government to deliver on a promise made by George Osborne in 2014: two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly and an expansion at Oxford Road.

That would have unblocked a key part of the entire Northern rail network. It didn’t happen. Instead, that bottleneck through Castlefield helped drive train services across the region into meltdown in May 2018.

Services were then cut instead of that investment materialising. Patience has now run out. Words are not enough.

So today the Manchester Evening News has once again joined forces with five other major Northern titles – The Gazette in Teesside, The Journal and The Chronicle in Newcastle, the Huddersfield Examiner and the Hull Daily Mail – to publish a coordinated demand to government.

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Choose the North: The government must deliver on railway promises

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It follows our Power up the North campaign, in summer 2019, which was backed by the Prime Minister days after he took office.

Ultimately we are only making arguments already made by the government itself. “In the area of transport, we are still selling the North’s potential short,” a Conservative backbencher told the House of Commons in 2017. “The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a wonderful phrase, but the people of Northern England deserve more than a slogan.

They need action.” That backbencher was Rishi Sunak, now Chancellor of the Exchequer. And we couldn’t agree more.

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  1. ^ merely upgrading the existing Manchester to Leeds Transpennine line (
  2. ^ In Boris Johnson’s own words (
  3. ^ click on this link to our newsletter sign-up centre (
  4. ^ (